Enforceability of Release Clauses

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What Is a Release Clause?

A release clause is a document that releases a facility or person from liability for injuries that may occur on the premises or under that person's care. Release clauses are basically disclaimers and waivers so that property owners or service providers won't be liable for injuries to customers.

In order for a release clause to be enforceable, the customer must be fully aware of the rights that are waived. This means that the release clause must be expressed to the customer and the customer must know what they are signing off on.

Why Are Release Clauses Used?

Release clauses are used by property owners or business owners trying to limit their liability for injuries suffered by their customers.

Release clauses are also used in order for a customer to participate in a sporting event or a dangerous event such as skiing. The property owner will require the customer to sign a release clause, acknowledging that the particular type of event is dangerous and may cause some type of injury. When the customer signs the release clause, they assume the risk of injury which would limit their rights to bring a claim for an injury.

How Do I Know if I've Signed a Release Clause?

A release clause will usually be an express waiver that the customer will sign before they engage in some type of activity on the property. The property owner or property facilitators will warn customers of common dangers that is associated with the property acivity. Common examples of situations where you may have signed a release clause include: 

Many places also have implied waivers of liability. An implied waiver is applied where a person enters a property knowing that the activity that they are about to do poses a risk of harm, such as ice skating or skiing. Unlike an express waiver, an implied waiver does not require the costomer to sign a release clause.

Are Release Clauses Always Enforceable?

Release clauses are not always enforceable.  If you have signed a release clause and have been injured in connection with the activities for which you signed the release, you may still be able to sue. Although state and federal courts differ slightly, most agree that to be enforceable, the release clause must be easily readable and understandable to non-lawyers.

The courts also consider whether the release clauses that was signed by the customer covers the particular injury or damage that is suffered by the injured person. In order for a waiver or release clause to be enforceable, the waiver must be apparent to the customer of the property. This may require the release clause to be obvious and expressed to the customer and they must know what they are signing off.

Can I Bring a Negligence Claim If I Was Injured?

The answer to this question depends upon the law of the state in which the accident occurs. Some states hold that facilities cannot release themselves from liability for their own negligence, because then they wouldn't have any incentive to promote safety. Other states hold that if the release clause completely, clearly, and unambiguously states that the user is releasing the premises from liability for negligence, it should be enforceable. If the release clause that was signed did not cover the injury or damage that was suffered, the courts will consider whether the customer waived their right to bring a claim for all type of injury or damage of just particular injuries.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Sue after Signing a Release Clause?

If you have been injured at a ski resort, health club or other place after signing a release form, you may still be able to sue for damages or other compensation. You should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer in your state to learn about the enforceability of release clauses and to discuss your options.

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Last Modified: 05-12-2015 05:04 PM PDT

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